NRM Link

Archives Hunters

Hidden Treasures from the Norman Rockwell Museum

Norman Rockwell Museum

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Why Archival Collections Matter in a Museum!

My goal! (image from the University of Maryland Archives)

Part of the role of the museum archivist is justification. The cultural history of museums, as institutions, relies fully on item level description. Often, this is how the museum archives were organized prior to the hiring of an archival professional. Item level description, for archival records, overwhelms the scholar with unnecessary detail. Knowing that groups of records share certain characteristics, collective description relates the more important aspects of the archival material without repetition.

Deborah Wythe writes in her seminal book "Museum Archives- An Introduction:" (2004) "one of the greatest administrative challenges a museum archivist faces is the pressure towards item description. Museums thrive on item-level description. A ceremonial pot containing seventeen pebbles will be described as such, and each pebble receives accession numbers so that they can be tracked. Even in the context of the other, related vessels, it is most important as a single, unique item. You may be encouraged to 'catalog' individual items this way, a method that does not fully exploit the full power of archival description. A cubic foot of correspondence files is not equivalent to one pot, or several hundred pots, and an important part of your job will be to justify describing archival collections as groups, not items."

Facing the daunting challenge of the Norman Rockwell Museum Archives, where literally none of the records were organized according archival standard, is an immense undertaking. Acting as an archival detective, I must discover the provenance and "find" their corresponding collection. This is the exciting part of my job. For instance, some collections make sense in regards to donor and other collections are based on item type, others to provenance (Example: Norman Rockwell Photographic Print Collection, Norman Rockwell Collected Correspondence, Norman Rockwell Museum Moving Image Collection). These are the meaningful relationships that make archival descriptions for archival material non-negotiable in a museum environment.
An archival digital image, as an item floating in collections management software may be searchable via item type, name, accession number, or donor. But, this item makes much more sense if we can view it based on archival hierarchy. When we see the image with other images in the manner of organization the creator of the records intended, a story begins to emerge. In the particular case of Norman Rockwell, his archival material as collections allows a researcher to see his development as an artist; hence, new revisionist viewpoints emerge beyond traditional understandings of history, contributing to an evolving discourse.

Archival collections remind us that history is interrelated, not set in stone, and always an interpretation.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Found on Film

Welcome to the new blog of the Norman Rockwell Museum Archives! You can follow my posts (CorryK) for short contextual discussions regarding our latest archival aquisitions, items of recent discovery, and interesting documents retrieved during the process of research. Below is the text of my first post, Found on Film.


In 1971, a public relations firm in the service of the McDonald's restaurant chain, successfully recruited Norman Rockwell to produce a cover illustration for the corporation's annual report. Often, representatives of the entities who commissioned Rockwell's work would personally visit with him when a piece was completed. For many, an exclusive meeting with the celebrity artist was an exciting and unique opportunity. In some cases, these guests had renown of their own. Such was the case of Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald's, who called on Rockwell in 1971 to collect the illustration commissioned by his company. Rockwell's studio photographer was on hand to document the occasion.

Ray Croc with Norman Rockwell, Stockbridge, MA, 1971. Photo by Louie Lamone. Norman Rockwell Studio Negative Collection, Norman Rockwell Museum. Licensed by Norman Rockwell Licensing Company, Niles, IL.

The Museum's three photos of Rockwell and Croc were recently identified in a large collection of the artist's studio negatives. They are among numerous others in the Archives which feature Rockwell and notable individuals such as John Wayne, Colonel Harland Sanders, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Frank Sinatra. For staff of the Museum, it gives us pause to come across pictures like these, as there is something remarkable about seemingly disparate historical figures immortalized together in a photographic image. Could either Croc or Rockwell have foreseen one another's long-lasting impact on American culture?

Norman Rockwell Museum Archives receives NHPRC Basic Projects Grant!

Norman Rockwell Museum Archives is a recipient of the 2010 National Historical Publications and Records Commission Basic Projects grant. Beginning in October 2010, this two-year basic arrangement and description grant seeks to reorganize the Norman Rockwell archival records to reveal hidden collections that researchers and others cannot discover easily. Previously, Norman Rockwell Museum's archival records were itemized with no connection to a larger archival group structure.

Museum Archivist, Jessika Drmacich, will generate collection level MARC records and finding aids based on the original internal order of each portion of approximately 720 feet of material to create portals of access into the archival holdings. Part of the museum's ProjectNorman initiative, the MARC records and finding aids will be available to the public on the museum's website.

This two-year effort prepares the museum for detailed archival processing and digitization, enabling broader, easier access to the collections and eliminates backlogs.

Since the Norman Rockwell Museum collections had not been arranged and described according to current professional archival standards, this significant body of materials illuminating the life and art of America's most prominent twentieth century illustrator and his contemporaries is not a fully accessible resource.

NHPRC funding supports efforts to adequately describe Norman Rockwell Museum archival holdings in preparation for digitization and in hopes that they achieve higher levels of use amongst scholars, researchers, and American Illustration enthusiasts.

Please follow Jessika (archivistinheels) on this blog, as she tracks her journey discovering and standardizing the hidden collections of the Norman Rockwell Museum Archives.